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Executive Vice President Timmermans' remarks at the press conference on the new EU Climate Adaptation Strategy

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 24 februari 2021.

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all safe. I want to welcome you to our College read-out, the meeting that has just ended.

We adopted our new EU strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. I will say something about this in a moment.

We also discussed the launching of the first phase consultation with European social partners to improve the conditions of platform workers, and my colleagues Margrethe Vestager and Nicolas Schmit will be with your later to present this to you.

We also adopted a new regulation proposal on roaming. One of the big EU successes. As the current regulation expires next year, our proposal will allow travellers in the EU to continue calling, texting, and using data without additional charges. And it will allow me as a parent not to have to say to my kids when we cross the border: ‘shut your phone'.

Anyway, back to the issue of the Climate Adaptation Strategy. It really is a pleasure for me to present it to you today.

For many years we avoided talking too much about adaptation because it sort of felt like admitting defeat in the wake of the climate crisis. But now we fully understand that if we want to be a climate neutral continent by 2050, if we want to be successful in tackling this incredible challenge, including the challenge of the biodiversity loss, we need to have an Adaptation Strategy and that is why we have presented it today.

We have to avoid the worst and prepare for the unavoidable. Even if we could eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we would still face the effects of our past emissions for decades to come.

The climate crisis already affects every single place in Europe. I speak to you three days after the hottest 21 February on record, in Brussels and other parts of Western Europe. And that came just a week after we had frosty temperatures.

I had my personal experience walking in the woods not far from Brussels a week before with my dogs. We were ploughing through the snow, solid frozen soil, and could fortunately see some wild boar trying to dig up some roots. And a week later: almost 20 degrees - a week later! Bugs coming out everywhere, we saw some butterflies, my dogs finally got to roll around in the mud again.

This is not easy on nature. It is really, really tough. We need to make sure that we adapt, that we strengthen also our nature, so that is can be a good basis for our carbon sinks and nature-based solutions. Nature-based solutions are always the best solutions.

All of this will also affect our health. In 2019, the summer heatwave cost 2500 Europeans their lives. From our current pandemic reality this number seems small, but that year it was the deadliest event worldwide.

The Atlantic Coast is eroding, our outermost regions ravaged by hurricanes, there are forest fires in the Arctic Circle, and crippling droughts in large parts of Central and Southern Europe. The more the climate crisis progresses, the bigger the battle for water will become. If we don't act, our children and grandchildren may face a world where Mad Max Fury Road is not just a movie scenario set in 2050. We must ensure fresh and clean water stays available, reduce water use and protect water sources. This is just one of the threads of the new Climate Adaptation Strategy.

You can quote the example of Spain where they have the phenomenon of the Gota Fria, which used to happen once every 50 years, and now happens almost every year. An incredible amount of water falls down in an incredible short period of time, washing away roads, top soils and disappearing immediately into the Mediterranean. Just weeks later the drought is back. If you could retain that water, if you could channel the water so it doesn't do much harm and it doesn't cause the misery to people there now, you would be able to avoid catastrophe and at the same time address the issues of droughts. That is just one example.

The strategy will have to help make the European Union not only climate-neutral but also climate-resilient by 2050. If we make our adaptation smarter, swifter, and more systemic, we will be able to - and especially also add the international component - we will be able to learn from our partners, to learn from each other, and to make sure we adapt more quickly.

Let me briefly touch on each of the dimensions of this.

First, to make adaptation smarter, we need more data collection and data sharing. With more precise modelling on future hazards, farmers can better plan the crops they plant, families buying a home will know what climate risks they may face, businesses will know how to make new production facilities fit for a hotter planet, and cities will know how to protect their residents from weather extremes.

We will also start monitoring the health effects of the climate crisis with a new Climate Health Observatory. It will look at the direct impact of hot and cold extremes and what it means for the spread of new diseases.

Next, to make adaptation more systemic, we will target more support at the local level. Tailored advice for especially the most vulnerable communities, so that they can find the expertise to plan, and the resources to take action. We will promote nature-based solutions as much as possible. Think of protecting and restoring wetlands, or developing urban green spaces or restoring peatlands. They help adaptation, and at the same time protect the biodiversity, give us cleaner air and give us cooler cities.

We also need to consider the impact of climate change on fiscal policies. Already, extreme weather alone causes an average 12 billion euro a year in losses. If we fail to prevent a 3-degree rise in temperature, this could go up to 170 billion a year. Slower developing threats like sea level rise pose a big risk to the 40% of European GDP that is generated in coastal areas and I think the 40% of Europeans living in coastal areas.

Under today's strategy, the Commission will start a dialogue with Member States on the impact of disasters on public finance. This will be the starting point of designing more climate-proof fiscal frameworks.

Thirdly, to speed up adaptation, we need to bridge the gap between planning and implementation. We will work with the European Investment Bank to boost adaptation financing. We will also intensify our collaboration with the insurance sector. The climate protection gap across Europe is still high, and too often the financial burden of natural disasters falls on uninsured families and businesses or public finances.Yesterday, in the country I know best, an agreement was reached between the insurance sector and the Royal Institute for Public Health and Environment. The Royal Institute would support the insurance sector with up-to-date information and the best possible scientific knowledge so that insurers know better how to plan and can provide better products at a fairer price to their clients.

Finally, we need to do more at the international level. Climate impacts outside our borders will increasingly affect Europe as well. There is a lot for us to learn, especially from countries like Bangladesh and small island developing states. Think about what is happening in the Pacific: adaptation has been an existential task for them for some time already, existential in the most literal meaning of the word.

Commitments on climate finance will play an important role for a successful COP in Glasgow in November. The EU has consistently lived up to our responsibilities, and we will intensify our work to bring other partners along too. This is one of the first things I say when I speak to my colleagues from other parts of the world, whether it's Alok Sharma who chairs the COP, or John Kerry, or our Chinese counterparts. We need to put the money on the table for the emerging part of our planet to be able to take part in facing the climate crisis.

If we step up work on adaptation today, we can make the EU, and the planet, much better prepared for the unavoidable changes we will face tomorrow. And we need to do it immediately.

Thank you.


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